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     In this eloquent and dramatic sequel to Echo Heron's bestselling INTENSIVE CARE: THE STORY OF A NURSE,  CONDITION CRITICAL covers the author's last eight years as a nurse in the critical care units of a San Francisco Bay area hospital. This well written account of her moving, tragic, and sometimes humorous experiences is guaranteed to take the reader on an unforgettable journey behind the closed doors of Critical Care and into the world of a nurse.


     She sings softly to the teenager with the crushed skull while documenting the inevitable fraying of his hold on life. She tends to his broken young body, whispering questions she knows will go unanswered forever. "Can you hear us?" "Did you feel any pain?" "What was your last thought?"
     It is only a matter of hours before death renders her powerless as his life flows through her hands and into her heart. Later, with his soul still fresh in her keeping, despair comes to fill her sleepless nights, tormenting her with the sounds of his mother's pleadings - "Oh God, why my son? Please not my son." Then comes the vision of a weeping sister too young to understand why her favorite brother no longer laughs or calls her his 'little bratty'.
     Whether or not this nurse has yet found that delicate balance of compassion and hopelessness, detachment and intimacy, she will choose of her own free will to return again tomorrow. Her need to nurture is not something she can turn away from, no matter how much it hurts. As a healer, she sees only that she may be given the chance to steal a child away from death, or perhaps it will be her touch alone that will soothe the fears and aches of some ancient soul.
     And when she wipes the sweat of suffering from your face, she is not concerned with whether you are a Jew or a Catholic, a Protestant or an atheist, but only that you are freed from your pain. When she holds you in her arms delivering you to the peace of death, her thoughts are not of whether you lived in a cardboard box or in a castle, but that you have comfort and dignity. When she ministers to your broken body, she does not care about the color of your skin, but only that you are made whole. When you are afraid, she speaks with gentle understanding, unmindful of whether you are a prostitute or a priest, for she herself knows well the singular loneliness of fear.
     That intimate stranger at your bedside is not only your nurse, she is your sister, your mother, your confessor, and your healer. It is not the medicine or the treatment that cures your ills; it is her caring that heals.
     Nurses see things, the afterimages of which will haunt them for the rest of their lives. But they are not hardened monsters. On the contrary, they each carry a courageous and sympathetic heart inside them always so that when you look into a nurse's face, you are looking into the face of human compassion; a human being who still sends a silent prayer each time a siren sounds.
     And you, the layperson, you who live on the 'normal' side of life, in the end you always ask: "How can nurses bear to do what they do? Why do they keep choosing to face the sorrow and the horror day after day? How can they continue to care when it hurts so much?"
     In answer, there is one universal truth about the true giver: Nurses are able to do what they do because they are rich in the gifts of healing, compassion, and love.